Man Who Taught Himself Photography in Prison Captures Raw and Intimate Portraits

The photographs taken by Donato Di Camillo are raw, revealing, and real—three qualities that the artist shares with his work. Di Camillo, the son of first-generation Italian parents, grew up during the late 1970's in the heart of Brooklyn's Little Italy. In an interview with Feature Shoot, he recalled: “As a child, I witnessed a lot of traumatic things. I saw my first friend die at the age of nine, right by my feet.” Ever since, he had to follow his intuition and develop street smarts quickly. Coming from a childhood where it was normal to see kids roaming wild, “fighting after school, fair and square,” Di Camillo found himself in frequent tussles with other kids—often because his thick familial accent lent itself to name calling. He was, as he describes an outsider. 

Struggling through his early adult life, Di Camillo served a prison sentence that strangely would become some of the most formative years in his life. He spent hours in the institution's library, studying psychology, human behavior, and art mediums. “It allowed me time to learn about the world outside my mind,” he says. It was prison where Di Camillo learned how to be a photographer. It was prison where he learned how to read and understand the human face. 

Upon his release in 2012, Di Camillo was introduced to the work of Bruce Gilden and William Klein. It was this style of “street photography” that compelled him to take up the camera and begin anew. He knew these streets, only now through a different lens. Di Camillo explains the process of choosing his photo subjects: “I love the amazing differences in people and how beautifully unique we all are. Good bad or indifferent; People never cease to amaze me, they often answer many of my own questions. The littlest detail, maybe in the eyes or the way someone walks can be the difference of making a photograph.”

The self-described outsider from long ago continues to see himself and his photograph's protagonists as “people on the fringes of society,” but it is the fact that they are all people that connects them together. We're all a bit of outsiders and insiders, as we make our way through the world. We possess one-of-a-kind birth marks, bizarre idiosyncrasies, and unique scars (visible or otherwise). That's what viewers can easily connect with in Di Camillo's work—the rawness, the revealing nature, the reality of being human.

Above photo: “His name is Rosario. He was born in Sicily. At a very young age, he was abandoned by his caregivers after his parents died tragically in a car accident. He said the scar tissue in his eye was from a fight he had in an orphanage he occupied as a child. These days, he lives the best he can working odd jobs for local small businesses.”

“Nail It”

“#hashtag Beauty”

“Disco is Dead”

This gentleman actually asked me to photograph him while I was walking by with my camera slung over my shoulder. He said his name was ‘K2.' He was joking with his friends about his teeth when I encountered him. When I asked him if he was worried about his teeth, he replied ‘ain’t they pretty though?' “

“The Last Act”

“Self proclaimed subcultures exist on the fringes of Coney Island. Travelers and train jumpers find means to maintain life against society’s rules.”

“Passing Over”

“Back Hand”

“91 years young teacher of life still exercises every day, harder than most.”

“Blind Bird Caller”

“Dorito Man”

“Happy birthday! At 90 years young this proud mother gets some fresh air while her ‘baby boy' sings happy birthday to her on the streets of Brooklyn NY!”

“Cat Lady”

“Worker screams at crew for coffee break”

Donato Di Camillo: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr
via [Feature Shoot]

All images and captions via Donato Di Camillo.

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